Tag Archives: Hiroshima

Historian’s Almanac for August 6, 2013

 On this day in 1926, the first feature-length motion picture with sound, Don Juan, starring the immortal John Barrymore was being shown at Warner Theatre (a.k.a. Piccadilly Theatre) in New York.  A ticket cost $10.00, that’s approximately $130.00 in today’s dollars, to see the nearly three-hour-long spectacular.  The first motion picture with sound was actually shown at the Paris Exposition of 1900.

 It’s the birthday of Andy Warhol (1928-1987) known as the “Prince of Pop.”  Warhol was one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century.  In 1961 a friend suggested that he paint something like a soup can.  He did. In 1962 Warhol had his first art exhibit in a gallery in Los Angeles.  He displayed 32 paintings of Campbell soup cans, one for each type of soup.  Warhol sold the entire set to an art dealer for $1000.  The dealer later sold the 32 small canvases for $15 million.  A signed, numbered, and authenticated print of a Campbell Soup can be purchased for around $1,200.  “An artist,” said Warhol, “is somebody who produces things people don’t need.”

 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law, thus turning the once solid Democratic South over to the Republican Party.

In 1945, the United States carried out what many consider to have been the greatest war crime of the Second World War.  A B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.  The debate over the motive for dropping the bomb, and a second one on Nagasaki just three days later, will never end.  The horror of it is vividly portrayed in John Hersey’s novel Hiroshima and in the graphic novel Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa, a survivor.

Finally, while thinking about the anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, I was reminded of a USA program to explode an atomic bomb on the moon.  After the Russians launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, American military leaders became fearful that the Russians might do to us what we did to the Japanese.  The result was a project called “A Study of Lunar Research Flights,” nicknamed “Project 119.”  It was intended to impress the Soviet leaders with America’s military might.  Physicist Leonard Reiffel was placed in charge of the project.  He was assisted by a graduate astronomy student by the name of Carl Sagan.  The event was to take place in 1959, but was abandoned, when someone suggested that it might possibly harm people on earth, other than the Japanese or Russians, we might assume.

Until next time, be good, do good, and always live under the mercy.

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Remembering Hiroshima

I cannot help but take a break from the boredom of everyday life to think one of the most significant events in modern history. On August 6, 1945, President Harry S. Truman announced to the nation that the USA had dropped a single atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The decision to drop “the bomb” was Truman’s. He took responsibility for making the decision, and throughout the rest of his life, never indicated that he ever doubted that he made the right decision.

Historians and others have ever since debated whether dropping the atomic bomb was necessary in order to end the war in the Pacific, or at least avoid the immense loss of American lives that surely would have resulted from an invasion of the Japanese home islands. Some argue that it was meant to be a warning to our wartime ally, the Soviet Union.

Some ask why Hiroshima? After all, the city was of no military significance and the residence of numerous refugees from the war. The usual explanation given is that the military wanted a kind of “laboratory experiment.” And then there is the question of why the bombing of Hiroshima was followed only three days later by the dropping of a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

The debate will continue without end. What is not debatable is the horror produced by the bomb, so graphically portrayed by John Hersey’s little book, Hiroshima. Based upon eyewitness accounts, Hersey’s story was first published in the August, 1946 issue of The New Yorker. It filled up the entire issue. No other articles. No advertisements. The issue sold out in just four hours. The story was quickly put in print as a book, and mailed free to all members of The-Book-of-the-Month Club. It has never been out of print since, even in this present era of declining literacy in America.

Less known to Americans is Japanese artist, Keiji Makazawa’s Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen), first published in serial form between 1973 and 1974, and then as an animated film in 1976. It is based on Makazawa’s experience as a survivor of Hiroshima. In cartoon art similar to Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1986-1991), Nagazawa provides graphic images of the horrors described in John Hersey’s Hiroshima. Barefoot Gen does for Hiroshima what Elie Wiesel’s Night (1960) does for the Holocaust.

Every year since August 6, 2010, the Japanese mark the exact time of day when the bomb fell on Hiroshima with a public observance. This year, for the first time in 65 years, the USA and its wartime allies (the United Kingdom and France) sent representatives. Why did it take so long for the USA, in particular, to join with the Japanese in remembering the tragedy? Did it take America becoming the victim of international terrorism for Americans to feel the suffering of those who experienced nuclear war first hand? Or, was it because we are the only nation to have actually used nuclear weapons, and even in recent years, threatened to use them again?

The atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ranks as one of the greatest war crimes of the twentieth century. Questions remain and ever will. If the war in Europe had continued, would we have used the atom bomb against Germany? Or, was there perhaps a bit of racism involved in the decision to use it against Japan? What is there to fear about international terrorism for those of us who grew up in the shade of the mushroom cloud?
My generation believed that someday the Cold War would become a nuclear holocaust. It was never if, but when? Perhaps one thing positive resulted from the nightmare of Hiroshima. Because the leaders of the super powers during the Cold War knew, really knew, what nuclear weapons could do, they never used them. Even during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when nuclear war came within perhaps an hour of becoming reality, the example of Hiroshima kept the demon at bay.